It’s a go-to question at everything from college orientation to the Thanksgiving dinner table.
“What’s your major?”
And, for the longest time, my answer was simple: “biochemistry and pre-med.”
I felt accomplished and proud telling people my major. Saying it was some kind of STEM badge of honor, like a guarantee of future success. It was as though being a pre-med major was a guarantee I would get into medical school and make a six-figure salary.
These feelings were confirmed by everyone’s responses.
My relatives would smile, my dad would nod and my peers would raise their eyebrows and say “Wow.” People wouldn’t ask about my GPA, they wouldn’t ask about clubs or achievements — my major was an unspoken achievement in itself.
I enjoyed the praise and admiration, but it didn’t last. It came to a screeching halt when I changed my major to creative writing.
To say my parents were disappointed would be a drastic understatement.
My friends asked, “Why would you do that?”
My relatives would whisper about me at family gatherings, saying things like, “she threw away her future,” or “how could she be so naive?”
Their reactions made me feel like a failure, and like I was taking the easy way out. I thought people heard about my switch and assumed I wasn’t smart enough to study something “difficult.” I felt the need to tell everyone that I made the Dean’s List last semester or that I would continue with research.
Before, I looked forward to telling people about my studies. Now, I loath it more than anything.
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No one understood the affect their words and reactions had on my final decision. They didn’t realize that the only reason I wasn’t pursuing my dream was because I was afraid of what others thought of me.
My love for both subjects didn’t make it any easier.
I enjoyed biochemistry, I loved studying the way little things affect big ones. But at the end of the day, I couldn’t imagine doing it for the rest of my life.
I love to write. I love everything about writing. I love the vast ways I can put words together and I love exploring the meaning behind them. I love sitting down after a long day with a cup of coffee, my laptop and writing a poem about something I heard or saw.
And understanding that I needed to start prioritizing my mental health was a big factor in coming to this conclusion.
As a biochemistry major, I drowned under a mountain of stress, assignments and study groups. The way I viewed myself was directly correlated to the grade I received on my last assignment. I struggled, and felt like I was trying to be somebody I wasn’t.
Wanting to change that is something I shouldn’t need to justify.
And yet, I felt the need to apologize to my family and my friends for taking charge of my life and focusing on myself and my passion. I felt the need to explain that I was focusing on my mental health, something that I had pushed away for a long time.
I can’t completely blame them, because I also make flash judgements based on people’s answers to that simple, juvenile question. When people tell me that they’re majoring in math or engineering I say, “wow” and think they must be smart.
When my friend from home told me she was changing her major from biology to history, I asked her, “what can you do with that?”
When I finally found the courage to share my decision with my parents, they cited the statistics. On average, students with an undergraduate degree in the humanities make $5,000-$10,000 less than their STEM counterparts. In a world where STEM is king, English majors face a competitive field where luck is a large component of success.
While statistics don’t lie, they take into account only the financial aspects of success, while leaving out some other key ingredients: What about my happiness or self-reliance?
After I made the change, I’m happier than ever. I have time to spend doing the things I love and am joining clubs with other like-minded people. Of course I feel good about myself when I get good grades, but my assignments no longer feel like work. Most of all, I get to write all the time.
I don’t know what the future holds. But freeing myself and taking charge of my own life feels like a great place to start.